• Excavations at Hazor Comments Off on WWJD: Spiritual Lessons from Hazor’s History

    by Gordon Franz

    There is a popular bracelet, which some Christians wear, that has the inscription WWJD, which stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” The Lord Jesus was the Master Teacher. He would often use object lessons to illustrate His parables, sermons, and discourses in order to reinforce the spiritual lessons that He was trying to convey to His disciples and the multitudes. For example, He used sheep (Matt. 18:7-14; Luke 15:3-7), coins (Luke 15:8-10), a little child (Matt. 18:2), and even a dragnet (Matt. 13:47-51).

    He also used the geography of the location where He was at to drive home a point. One time when He was on the Temple Mount dialoguing with the Pharisees about the Patriarch Abraham, He stated that “your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad!” (John 8:56) ¹. The day that Jesus was referring to was when Abraham offered up his only son Isaac on a mountain in the Land of Moriah (Gen. 22:1-14; cf. Heb. 11:17-19), called in Jewish tradition Akedah, or the “binding of Isaac.” The Temple of Solomon, and later Herod’s Temple where Jesus and the Pharisees were discussing Abraham, was built on Mount Moriah (2 Chron. 3:1).

    If Jesus and His disciples stopped to refresh themselves at the springs below the ruined city of Hazor, what spiritual lessons might He have taught His disciples from the history of Hazor? Contemplate these verses.

    [For the possibility that Jesus and His disciples visited Hazor, see “Jesus at Hazor” by Gordon Franz]

    • Read Josh. 11:1-15. Joshua captured and burned Hazor with fire. Why did God instruct the Israelites to hamstring the Canaanite horses and burn their chariots after their victory over the Canaanites (11:6)?
    • Read Judges 4 and 5. God used Deborah and Barak to destroy Jabin, the king of Canaan, who reigned at Hazor (4:2, 24). General Barak was afraid to go out to battle against the Canaanite forces unless Deborah went with him. Contemplate how God uses even fearful servants when they (fearfully) act in faith (cf. Heb. 11:32).
    • Read 1 Kings 9:15. King Solomon fortified Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. Why did he fortify those cities? By fortifying those cities, did Solomon trust the Lord to protect his kingdom?
    • Read 1 Kings 5:1-12. King Solomon was good friends with Hiram, the Phoenician king of Tyre. During the Second Temple period, the Phoenicians of Kedesh did not get along with their Jewish neighbors in Galilee. How might Jesus have used Solomon and Hiram’s friendship to temper His disciples’ fears, or prejudices, about going to Tyre? Hint: Consider Matt. 5:9 and 15:21-31.
    • Read 1 Kings 16:28-22:40. King Ahab extended the fortifications of Hazor to the eastern part of the upper city as well as digging a huge water system. The Bible devotes six chapters to the life of this king, yet it does not mention his great building activities until after he died (22:39). He is described as doing “more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him (16:33).” How would God view Ahab’s great building activities in light of his idolatry?
    • Read the book of Amos, Isa. 2:5-22, and Zech. 14:5. There is archaeological evidence at Hazor that attests to a strong and violent earthquake in the mid-eighth century BC. This earthquake was prophesied by the prophet Amos two years before it occurred (1:1). The prophet Zechariah reflected on this event long after it occurred. What message might God have been trying to communicate to His people by this mighty act?
    • Read 2 Kings 15:29; Isa. 9:1-2, 10:5-11, 65:4, 66:17; and Lev. 11:7. Tiglath Pileser III, the ruler of Assyria, invaded the northern kingdom of Israel and destroyed Hazor. Why did God allow this to happen? In the excavations at Hazor, articulated pig bones were discovered. This finding indicates that the Israelites were eating pork right before the fall of the city to the Assyrians. Could there be a connection between this un-kosher act and God’s judgment on Hazor? Why, or why not?

    For further information on the Hazor Archaeological Excavation, please visit their website.

    [1] All Scripture quotes from the New King James Version of the Bible.
  • Prophecy Comments Off on BABYLON REVISITED: Isaiah 21 – Future or Fulfillment?

    by Gordon Franz

    During the First Gulf War – Operation Desert Storm – Saddam Hussein was brought to the forefront of world events. Students of Bible prophecy asked, “What, if anything, does he or Iraq have to do with prophetic events?” Passages concerning Babylon were studied to see where Saddam Hussein, or Iraq for that matter, might fit into a particular prophetic scheme. One passage which deals with the fall of Babylon is Isaiah 21. Verse 9 states, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen! And all the carved images of her gods He has broken to the ground.” I would like to re-examine this passage of Scripture and ask the question, “Was this passage fulfilled, or even partially fulfilled during Operation Desert Storm?” (as some prophecy teachers suggest), or, “Was the passage actually fulfilled in Isaiah’s day?”

    One of the best-selling books on the place of Babylon in prophecy during the First Gulf War was The Rise of Babylon by Dr. Charles Dyer. It is interesting that Dr. Dyer never addressed this passage in the book, nor does he address it in his follow-up book, World News and Bible Prophecy.

    Noah Hutching, the radio pastor for Southwest Radio Church in Oklahoma quoted Isaiah 21:9 in his book The Persian Gulf Crisis and the Final Fall of Babylon (1990: 27). Yet surprisingly, in the chapter entitled “Isaiah Against Babylon” (chapter 9), he only discusses Isaiah 13 and ignores completely chapter 21.

    Other popular prophecy teachers did address this chapter. J. R. Church, in his prophetic magazine Prophecy in the News, states: “While researching the prophets for their perspective on the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, we came across Isaiah’s prediction of doom upon the ‘desert of the sea’ (Isaiah 21). The description fits the Persian Gulf nations perfectly” (1990: 1). He goes on to identify the “lion” in verse 8 with Great Britain because the British Petroleum Company was given half of the oil rights in Kuwait (1990: 1). At the end of the article he predicted (prior to Operation Desert Storm) that “during the upcoming war with Iraq, Israel will become involved and occupy Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. When Israel destroys Damascus, Russia will retaliate. The U.S.S.R. has a 20-year defense treaty with Syria, promising to come to Syria’s aid in case of attack. The eventual Israeli invasion of Syria will precipitate Russian involvement. Ezekiel called this the Battle of Gog and Magog” (1990: 4). Apparently Rev. Church has not consulted Dr. Edwin Yamauchi’s excellent work (1982) on the proper identification of Gog and Magog! And, with 20-20 hindsight, his predictions were not fulfilled.

    Another popular prophecy teacher, Dr. Robert Lindsted, in his book Certainty of Bible Prophecy had a little more to say about this chapter. In his chapter entitled “Saddam Hussein, The Persian Gulf, and the End Times” written just prior to Operation Desert Storm, he speculated that the “chariot of men” in verse 9 are the Israeli manufactured “Merkavah” tanks, the word meaning chariot (1990: 21-22). He goes on to quote a bit more of the verse “Babylon is fallen, is fallen” and suggested “again again, two fallings, one an ancient one under the Medes and Persians, and another which could be just around the corner” (1991: 22). Interestingly, he does not quote or comment on the last part of the verse which deals with the smashing of idols.

    Students of Bible prophecy have generally overlooked an important tool for understanding this chapter; mainly, the archaeologist’s spade. Archaeology has a direct bearing on this passage from two different angles. First, there are ancient inscriptions that give first hand accounts, or historical reflections, of the fall of Babylon in 689 BC. Second, there is confirmation of this destruction by the German excavation at the beginning of the 20th century. With this, let us turn our attention to Isaiah 21.

    The Context of Isaiah 21
    This chapter falls within the “Burden against the nations” section of the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 13-23). It was pronounced by Isaiah around 713 BC, just prior to the “14th year of the reign of King Hezekiah” (713/12 BC), in an attempt to influence Judean foreign policy. It seemed that a group within the “State Department” of Judah, led by Prime Minister Shebna (the royal steward), wanted to join an anti-Assyrian coalition of surrounding nations, lead by Merodah-baladan of Babylon. Isaiah tried to point out the futility of trusting in these foreign powers. He predicted that they would all soon be destroyed. He encouraged Hezekiah to trust only in the LORD for deliverance (Franz 1987: 28-30).

    Possibilities for Historical Fulfillment

    There are several candidates for the fulfillment of this passage in the history of ancient Babylon. The older commentaries stated that this was fulfilled when Cyrus captured Babylon in 539 BC. In fact, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, translates verse 2 as, “Against me are the Elamites, and the princes of the Persians are coming against me.” The “banquet” in verse 5 was seen as Belshazzar’s feast the night of the fall of Babylon. However, when Cyrus entered Babylon he did not treat the carved images the way it was described in verse 9. In fact, “on the contrary, we are expressly assured that his entrance, save for the attack on the palace in which Belshazzar was slain, was a peaceful one, and that there was no cessation whatever of the temple worship” (Bautflower 1930: 148-149).

    Another possibility is Sargon II’s campaign against Merodah-baladan in 710 BC. This possibility was first suggested by the Assyriologist George Smith and expanded on by Kleinert. George Adam Smith follows this idea in his commentary on Isaiah (nd: 1:201-204). More recently, John Hayes and Stuart Irvine, in their commentary on Isaiah, likewise adapted this view (1987: 271-276). This view, however, also has problems. The entrance of Sargon II into Babylon to assume the throne in 709 BC is described in the Assyrian sources as quite peaceful. Joan Oates in her book on Babylon states: “The cities of northern Babylonia are alleged to have welcomed the Assyrian king, throwing open their gates ‘with great rejoicing’” (1991: 116). Sargon II boastfully inscribed on the wall of his palace in Khorsabad: “Into Babylon, the city of the lord of the gods, joyfully I entered, in gladness of heart, and with a beaming countenance. I grasped the hand(s) of the great lord Marduk, and made pilgrimage (lit., completed the march) to the ‘House of the New Year’s Feast’” (ARAB 2:35). Hardly the way Isaiah described it!

    The best candidate is Sennacherib’s conquest of the city in 689 BC. When Sargon II died in battle in 705 BC, his son Sennacherib ascended to the throne. In so doing, he assumed the kingship of Babylon as well. In 703 BC, Marduk-zakir-shumi II seized the throne of Babylon. Soon after, Merodah-baladan made a bid for the throne as well. Sennacherib turned his attention on him and he fled to the marshes. A Babylonian puppet, Bel-ibni, was installed as king. He lasted several years until he was replaced by Sennacherib’s son, Assur-nadin-shumi, who ruled in relative peace for about six years (699-694 BC). In 694 BC, Sennacherib launched a daring campaign against the Chaldeans on the western frontier of Elam. While Sennacherib’s forces were engaged near the Persian Gulf, some Elamites made a bold “end-run” and captured Sennacherib’s son at Sippar. The son was never heard from again, so it is assumed he was murdered by the Elamites. An Elamite puppet, Nergal-ushezib, was placed on the throne of Babylon (694 BC). The Assyrians removed him on their way back to Nineveh several months later. A certain Mushezib-Marduk seized the throne with Aramaean support. This support prompted the new king and his Elamite alliance, paid for with silver, gold, and precious stones from the treasuries of the temples in Babylon, to attack Assyria. A major battle ensued at Halule on the Tigris River. The outcome of the battle depends on whose account you believe. Sennacherib boasted a victory with 150,000 of the enemy dead. The Babylonian Chronicles said the Assyrians retreated. The fact that Sennacherib did not continue the attack suggests that he suffered a reversal so he had to regroup. In 690 BC, he returned to lay siege against Babylon (Oates 1991: 116-119).

    The Bivian Inscription described the fall of Babylon in 689 BC in these terms. “In a second campaign of mine I advanced swiftly against Babylon, upon whose conquest I had determined. Like the on-coming of a storm I broke loose, and overwhelmed it like a hurricane. I completely invested that city, with mines and engines my hands [took the city]. The plunder …… his powerful ….. whether small or great, I left none. With their corpses I filled the city squares (wide places). Shuzubu, king of Babylonia, together with his family and his [nobles], I carried off alive into my land. The wealth of that city, – silver, gold, precious stones, property and goods, I doled out (counted into the hands of) to my people and they made it their own. The gods dwelling therein, – the hands of my people took them, and they smashed them. Their property and goods they seized” (ARAB 2:151-152). That is exactly what Isaiah “saw” in verse 9. In fact, A. A. Macintosh points out, “the Assyrian word used for ‘broke them in pieces’ (ushabbiruma) is ‘radically identical to the shbr of verse 9’” (1980: 72). It was as if Isaiah “saw” (prophetically) an advance copy of the “Nineveh News” with the headlines blaring “Babylonian Gods Smashed, Assyrian Army Victorious Over Babylonia” and he lifted the words right off the page and placed them in his book. You’ll pardon the pun, but this prophecy was literally fulfilled to the letter!

    Sennacherib goes on to describe the total destruction of Babylon in these terms: “The city and (its) houses, from the foundation to its top, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire. The wall and outer wall, temples and gods, temple towers of bricks and earth, as many as there were, I razed and dumped them into the Arahtu Canal. Through the midst of that city I dug canals, I flooded its site (lit., ground) with water, and the very foundations thereof (lit., the structure of its foundation) I destroyed. I made its destruction more complete than that by a flood. That in days to come the site of that city, and (its) temples and gods, might not be remembered, I completely blotted it out with (floods) of water and made it like a meadow” (ARAB 2:152).

    Is it any wonder that Isaiah predicted the destruction of Babylon in similar words? “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited, nor will it be settled from generation to generation …” (13: 19-20a). He later wrote, “’for I will rise up against them,’ says the LORD of Hosts, ‘and cut off from Babylon the name and remnant, and offspring and posterity,’ says the LORD. ‘I will also make it a possession for porcupine, and marshes of muddy water; I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,’ says the LORD of Host” (14: 22-23). That is exactly what happened in 689 BC!

    Esarhaddon, after building a new city of Babylon eight years later, reflected on what happened during his father’s reign. He comments that the Arahtu overflowed and turned the city into ruins, and became a wasteland. Reeds and poplars grew in the abandoned city, while birds and fish lived there. The gods and goddesses of Babylon left their shrines and went up to heaven and the people fled for unknown lands (Brinkman 1983: 39). However, nowhere does he mention the devastating deeds of his father. Brinkman concludes that the purpose of this is that, “within a narrative structured around divine involvement in human affairs, the former debasement of the city and its abandonment by god and man acted as a perfect literary foil for its glorious resurrection under Esarhaddon and the restoration of its exiled deities and citizens” (1983: 42).

    Nabonidus, the king of Babylon from 555-539 BC, reflected on Sennacherib’s deeds in these words. “[Against Akkad] he (i.e. Sennacherib) had evil intentions, he thought out crimes [agai]nst the country (Babylon), [he had] no mercy for the inhabitants of the co[untry]. With evil intentions against Babylon he let its sanctuaries fall in disrepair, disturbed the(ir) foundation outlines and let the cultic rites fall into oblivion. He (even) led the princely Marduk away and brought (him) into Ashur” (ANET 309). In the footnote on “disturbed their foundation outline”, the meaning is “Lit.: ‘to blot out; (suhhu). This seems to have been done to make it impossible to retrace the outlines of the original foundation-walls and therefore to rebuild the sanctuary.” Is this what the excavations show?

    The German Excavation of Babylon

    Morris Jastrow wrote in his monumental work, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, in 1915, “The result of fourteen years of steady and uninterrupted excavations has been to reveal … in the case of Babylon the excavations have shown that King Sennacherib of Assyria, did not exaggerate when, in his inscriptions, he told us that weary of the frequent uprisings in the south against Assyrian control, he decided to set an example by completely destroying the city of Babylon — razing its large structures to the ground and placing the city under water in order to make the work of destruction complete. This happened in the year 689 B.C. While some remains of the older Babylon have come to light (chiefly through the discovery of clay tablets belonging to earlier periods), the city unearthed by the German Oriental Society is the new city, the creation chiefly of Nebopolassar (625-604 B.C.), the founder of the neo-Babylonian dynasty, and of his famous son, the great Nebuchnezzar II (604-561 B.C.)” (1915: 55).

    An example of the earlier city is found in the Southern Citadel. Koldewey described the area thus: “North-west of the palace of Nabopolassar, the deep below the three fortification walls which here lie in front of the southern Citadel, there are remains of four ancient walls, the discovery of which has been of great importance for the topography of Babylon. … The wall of Sargon (S on the diagram) is the thickest, but with its crown its only attains a height of .27 metres below zero, where it is covered over with a thick layer of asphalt” (1914: 137). In the section of the Southern Citadel, one can clearly see the wall of Sargon is below the level of the Arachtu (or some would say, the Euphrates River). This demonstrates the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah 13:19-20; 14:22-23; 21:9.

    Some students of Bible prophecy might question whether this destruction was a literal fulfillment of the words of Isaiah. He said God would overthrow Babylon like Sodom and Gomorrah and it would never be inhabited again. After all, Esarhaddon rebuilt the city only eight years later. I think an archaeologist would understand this better than most. We know that when a city is destroyed by a military campaign or natural calamities it falls into ruins. When someone comes back to rebuild the city, they either fix up the previous buildings, if there is anything left, or reuse the stones that may be scattered on the surface to build an entirely new city. When Esarhaddon surveyed what used to be Babylon he found an uninhabited marshy area with some ruins of houses and palaces inhabited by wildlife. The city that he built was a completely new city on top of the previous one. So Isaiah, in truth, could say, “Babylon … will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited, nor will it be settled from generation to generation.” And, “I will also make it a possession for the porcupine, and marshes of muddy water.” The city that Sennacherib destroyed was completely covered over when Esarhaddon rebuilt it so that level was never inhabited again. Esarhaddon built a completely new city on top of the marshy ruins of the old one. The words of Isaiah were literally fulfilled. I do not believe there is any need to speculate whether Saddam Hussein is in any of these passages. They were already fulfilled in Isaiah’s day.

    The Elamites and Medians – Isaiah 21:1

    A. A. Macintosh has seen the phrase in verse 2, “Go up, Elam! Besiege, O Media! All its sighing I have made to cease” as a depiction of the attitude of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They were relying on Babylon and its king (cf. Isa, 39:1) to defeat the Assyrians. In reality, this was the Judeans cheering for the Elamite/Medians/Babylonian coalition. Yet Isaiah’s message from the Lord is “that Babylon will fall to the Assyrians and reliance upon her is as foolish as reliance upon any other foreign power” (1980: 112).

    The Conclusion of the Matter
    I think it is safe to say that the words of Isaiah were literally fulfilled by the destruction of Sennacherib in 689 BC. There is no need to look for a fulfillment in Operation Desert Storm, or say that we are at “half-time” now and the second half will resume soon.¹

    The purpose of Bible prophecy is to bring people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and to encourage believers in the Lord Jesus to live lives pleasing to Him so we will not be ashamed at His coming (1 John 2:28-3:3). The purpose is not to make fancy charts, try to identify who the big toe is in Daniel’s image, or play “pin-the-tail-on-the-Antichrist”!

    Interestingly, the prophet Jeremiah used similar language to warn Nebuchadnezzar of the coming destruction of Babylon (Jer. 50-51). It was written in a letter and sent to the courts of Babylon (Jer. 51:59-64) to be a reminder and warning to Nebuchadnezzar that God had acted in the past and fulfilled His Word and He could be counted on to act again in the near future. I believe that the Spirit of God used Jeremiah’s inspired words, as well as the humbling process that God put Nebuchadnezzar through (Dan. 4), and the prayers of the Judean believers in Babylonia (Jer. 29:7; cf. Dan. 6:10), to bring him to faith in the God of Heaven. In so doing, Nebuchadnezzar averted the judgment of God on Babylon for the time being (Jer. 18:6-12; cf. 26:17-19; Jonah 3:10; 4:2). Jeremiah 50 and 51 were not literally fulfilled, nor does it have to be because it fulfilled the purpose of Bible prophecy which was to bring Nebuchadnezzar to faith. After all, isn’t that what Bible prophecy is all about? To bring men and women to faith and change the way we live. Even so, come Lord Jesus!


    Boutflower, Charles
    1930    The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39 in Light of the Assyrian Monuments. London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge.

    Brinkman, John
    1983    Through the Glass Darkly, Esarhaddon’s Retrospects on the Downfall of Babylon. Journal of the American Oriental Society 103: 35-42.

    Church, J. R.
    1990    Britain Owns Half of the Oil in Kuwait. Prophecy in the News 10/10: 1, 4.

    Dyer, Charles
    1991    The Rise of Babylon. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.

    1993    World News and Bible Prophecy. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.

    Franz, Gordon
    1987    The Hezekiah/Sennacherib Chronology Problem Reconsidered. Unpublished MA thesis, Columbia Biblical Seminary. Columbia, SC.

    Hayes, John; and Irvine, Stuart
    1987   Isaiah, the Eighth-Century Prophet: His Times and His Preaching. Nashville, TN: Abingdon.

    Hutchings, Noah
    1990    The Persian Gulf Crisis and the Final Fall of Babylon. Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone.

    Jastrow, Morris
    1915    The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria. Philadelphia and London: J. B. Lippincott.

    Kaiser, Walter, Jr.
    1989    Back Toward the Future. Hints for Interpreting Biblical Prophecy. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

    Koldewey, Robert
    1914    The Excavations at Babylon. London: Macmillan.

    Lindsted, Robert
    1991    Certainty of Bible Prophecy. Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone.

    Luckenbill, Daniel David
    1989    Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylon. 2 vols. London: Histories and Mysteries of Man (Abbreviated ARAB).

    Macintosh, Andrew
    1980    Isaiah 21, A Palimpset. Cambridge: Cambridge University.

    Oates, Joan
    1991    Babylon. London: Thames and Hudson.

    Pritchard, James, ed.
    1969    Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Third edition with supplement. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University (Abbreviated as ANET).

    Smith, George Adam
    nd    The Book of Isaiah. Vol. 1, chapters 1-39. New York, NY: George H. Doran.

    Yamauchi, Edwin
    1982   Foes From the Northern Frontier. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

    This paper was first read at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting on November 18, 1993 in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.


    [1] When this essay was written in 1993, the Second Gulf War had not started.

  • Profiles in Missions Comments Off on AQUILA and PRISCILLA: A Godly Marriage for Ministry

    by Gordon Franz


    When the apostle Paul penned the epistle to the Ephesians in AD 62, Aquila and Priscilla were back in Rome after living and serving the church in Ephesus for several years. I am sure; however, they were not forgotten by the saints there. Perhaps the Apostle Paul had Aquila and Priscilla in mind as an example of a Spirit-filled husband and wife when he penned Eph. 5:18-33.

    A Spirit-filled couple will have a godly marriage that will result in a powerful ministry for the Lord. Their marriage would exemplify, or picture, the love of Christ for the Church. Paul mentioned to the church in Rome that Aquila and Priscilla put their necks on the line for the Apostle Paul (Rom. 16:4). Since this couple risked their lives for Paul, I am certain Aquila would have laid down his life for his wife. Paul writes: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25).

    The Lord Jesus in the Upper Room discourse states: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:12-14).

    In this essay we will follow this couple as they travel for the Lord after they had come to faith in the Lord Jesus as their Messiah. We will observe how they were determined to serve Him together with a godly marriage for ministry. They labored in the gospel with the Apostle Paul, opened their home for the meeting of the local church and showed hospitality to traveling preachers.

    Aquila and Priscilla Traveling for the Lord

    Aquila in Pontus – Acts 18:2
    Dr. Luke records the first meeting of the Apostle Paul with this couple in Corinth thus: “And he [Paul] found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them” (Acts 18:2). Aquila was originally from the Roman province of Pontus on the south shore of the Black Sea, called the Euxine Sea during the Roman period. His Latin name, Aquila, means “eagle.” Most likely he was a freedman living in Rome because most of the Jews living in Rome at this time were such.

    We are not told where Priscilla is from, her ethnicity, or her religious heritage. Her name is a common Roman name among the aristocratic families. Luke hints at the fact that she is not of Jewish heritage because he states Aquila is Jewish, but does not refer to her as such. Whether she was a convert to Judaism, and thus a proselyte, or a convert to Christianity, we are not told. She could have been originally from Rome and Aquila met and married her in the Eternal City.

    There are at least four possibilities as to how and when this couple came to faith in the Lord Jesus. First, Aquila could have heard the preaching of Peter in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost in AD 30. Dr. Luke records that there were Diaspora Jews from Pontus in Jerusalem for this festival (Acts 2:9). If Aquila heard Peter, he might have been touched by the words of the apostle and convicted by the Holy Spirit of his sin of unbelief. He realized he was a sinner, as we all are, and could not merit salvation or work for it. He realized the Lord Jesus was the Messiah of Israel who fulfilled the prophecies of His first coming to the earth. Aquila might have put his trust in the Lord Jesus as his Savior and Messiah at that time. When the festival was over, he returned to his Diaspora home in Pontus.

    The second possibility is that he and his wife could have been part of the Jewish and proselyte delegation from Rome that made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Pentecost in AD 30 (Acts 2:10). This would have been another opportunity for them to come to faith. The third possibility could have been if Aquila heard the preaching of Peter on the apostle’s missionary trip through Pontus in AD 40-42 (I Peter 1:1; cf. Acts 12:17). Jerome, one of the early church fathers, states in his Lives of Illustrious Men: “Simon Peter … after having been bishop of the church in Antioch and having preached to the Dispersion – the believers in circumcision, in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia – pushed on to Rome in the second year of Claudius” (1994:3:361). The final possibility might have been if they were in Rome in AD 42 when Peter arrived in the second year of Claudius. Peter could have led them to the Lord at that time.

    These possible scenarios also raise some interesting questions. Was Peter invited by Aquila to minister in Pontus on his first missionary journey in AD 40-42? This would have been a follow-up ministry visit to those who had come to faith in the Lord Jesus on the day of Pentecost ten years earlier. Did Peter take Aquila with him as a disciple when he ventured to the city of Rome after his first missionary journey? If this is the case, it would account for how Aquila got to Rome. Does a “nice Jewish boy” from Pontus marry a proselyte or Christian girl from Rome after Peter introduced them to each other? Was Aquila one of the leaders in the “pro-Cephas” faction in the church at Corinth (cf. 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:22)? If so, he was being loyal to the one who led him to the Lord and mentored him. These are questions that can be asked, but Scripture is silent as to the answers.

    I am looking forward to that day in Heaven when I can sit down with Priscilla and Aquila and hear their life story. I am also curious to know how they risked their neck for the Apostle Paul. It should be easy to find the mansion that the Lord Jesus prepared for them (John 14:3) because it will have beautiful Corinthian columns in front of it!

    Aquila and Priscilla’s name appears together six times (Acts 18:2,18,26; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19), in the Textus Receptus, half the time she is mentioned before her husband (Acts 18:18; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19 where she is called Prisca). The name “Priscilla” is the diminutive of “Prisca.” I suspect her name was put first because she had a more active spiritual role in the church, but that is only speculation on my part.

    Aquila and Priscilla in Rome – Acts 18:2
    Scripture does state that Aquila and Priscilla were expelled from Rome by a decree during the days of Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2). Most scholars date this decree to AD 49. There are some scholars, however, who have suggested AD 41 as the possible date for the expulsion (Murphy-O’Connor 1983:130-140; 1992:47-49). The Roman historian, Suetonius, wrote that “since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome” (Claudius 25:4; LCL 2:53). Whether Chrestus is another name for Christ, or the name of a Jewish rabble rouser in Rome, is debated. Dr. Luke records that Aquila and Priscilla “recently” arrived in Corinth from Rome. This would rule out the earlier expulsion in AD 41. But the record is clear; Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome.

    Apparently Claudius’s decree did not discriminate between Jews and Messianic Jews, those Jews who had put their trust in the Lord Jesus as Messiah. Aquila, a Messianic Jew, and his wife Priscilla were included in the expulsion from Rome.

    Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth – Acts 18:2-18
    Aquila and Priscilla decided to relocate to the Roman colony of Corinth and practiced their trade of tentmaking in that cosmopolitan and Latin speaking city. They would have arrived several years before the Apostle Paul and most likely would have started evangelistic work in the city, or continued what the Apostle Peter may have started if he came through Corinth in AD 42.

    In AD 52, Paul arrived in Corinth to begin his evangelistic endeavors. Silas and Timothy soon joined Paul in the work. Perhaps they had heard of the work in Corinth and came along to help. One other thing that may have attracted these three apostles to Corinth was the Isthmian Games that were held near Corinth (Acts 18:2-5).
    The Apostle Paul was attracted to this couple, not only because of their common faith in the Lord Jesus, but also because of their common occupation. Dr. Luke records: “for by occupation they were tentmakers” (Acts 18:3). Both were involved in this trade which indicates that this was a family business.

    There have been several suggestions as to what the “tentmaking” profession involved. Some have suggested, because Paul was from Tarsus in Cilicia, his father had taught him the trade of weaving tent cloth from goat’s hair (cilicium). Others have suggested, because the tents were made of leather, that the tentmaking involved leather working. Hiebert points out that “Paul’s father was a strict Pharisee (Acts 23:6) and thus regarded contact with the skins of dead animals as defiling, it seems improbable that he would have permitted his son to learn such a trade” (1992:29).

    Aquila and Priscilla were from Rome and in the Eternal City there was a Tentmakers Associations, called in Latin collegium tabernaclariorum (Murphy-O’Conner 1992:44). Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) describes what was made of linen cloths: awnings used to cover theaters, the Roman Forum, the Sacred Way, and Nero’s amphitheaters. It was also used for awnings in houses and sails for ships (Natural History 19:23-25; LCL 5:435-437).

    Aquila and Priscilla would have had no problem finding employment when they arrived in Corinth or establishing their own business. Shades were needed for the construction work going on in Corinth at this time, sails for ships were in need of mending as ships crossed the Isthmus of Corinth, and tents were in need of mending during the Isthmian Games. Their workshop afforded them the opportunity for evangelism (Hock 1978, 1979).

    Where the shop was located in Corinth is an open question. Murphy-O’Conner suggested it might have been in the newly built North Market located just to the north of the Archaic Temple to Apollo (1983:169). However, a careful reading of the preliminary excavation report suggests this market had not been built at this time and was built by the initiative of Emperor Vespasian after the earthquake of AD 77-78 (de Waele 1930:453).

    Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus – Acts 18:19,24-28; 1 Cor. 16:19
    After 18 months of ministering in Corinth, Paul decided to move his base of operation to Ephesus. He took Aquila and Priscilla to this major trading center on the west coast of Asia Minor, the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire; Rome, Alexandria and Antioch on the Orontes being larger (Acts 18:18,19). Paul left them there in order to establish the work in the city. He also promised that he would return to Ephesus after his visit to Jerusalem.

    In Ephesus they established a church that met in their house (1 Cor. 16:19). This afforded them the opportunity to show hospitality to sinners and saints. One day, while attending the synagogue in Ephesus, they heard Apollos, a Jewish preacher from Alexandria (Egypt) who was eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures, but he only knew of the baptism of John (Acts 18:24-25). After the meeting, they took him aside, apparently to their home, and explained to him the finer points of the Word of God and his salvation (Acts 18:26).

    Aquila and Priscilla did not have roast preacher for lunch that day, instead they had home-made apple pie on a silver platter. The Book of Proverbs says: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (25:11). I realize I am allegorizing this passage, but you get the point. They did not take him home and say, “That was a stupid sermon, don’t you know your Bible? Don’t you know what happened after John the Baptizer? Don’t you know about Jesus?” No, they brought him home, showed him hospitality by feeding him a good meal and then gently and lovingly “explained to him the way of God more accurately” (18:26).

    When Paul arrived in Ephesus during his third missionary journey, he ministered in the city for nearly three years (Acts 20:31). While there, he and Timothy had a discipleship program in the School of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9; 20:31). Paul did not want to be a burden on the church in Ephesus, so he stayed and worked with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 20:34). Some manuscripts in 1 Cor. 16:19 say, “Aquila and Prisca with whom I lodge” (Hiebert 1992:31).

    In the quietness of the home, after the business of the day, the three of them discussed missionary strategy. While in Ephesus, Paul saw the importance of going to Rome. Most likely it was Aquila and Priscilla that planted the thought in his mind that the Spirit of God used to direct Paul’s ways (Acts 19:21). Several years later, Paul wrote to the Roman church from Corinth and he conveyed a more detailed and refined plan. He would stop by Rome on his way to Spain (1:10-13; 15:22-28).

    Aquila and Priscilla in Rome Again – Rom. 16:3-4
    The next time Aquila and Priscilla are recorded in Scripture is when they are back in Rome when the epistle to the Romans arrives in AD 58 (Rom. 16:3-5). Rome, not Corinth or Ephesus, was home for them, so they returned to the Eternal City sometime after the death of Claudius on October 13, AD 54 and Nero’s reversal of the Jewish expulsion decree. Murphy-O’Conner suggests they returned to Rome during the summer of AD 55 (1992:51).

    Paul would have sent them on their way with his blessings because they would be preparing the church in Rome for his visit. Most likely they returned home via Corinth in order to visit the saints in that city. Possibly they persuaded Epaenetus to join them in the work in Rome as well (cf. Rom. 16:5b).

    Paul indicates that there is a church meeting in their home (Rom. 16:5a).  A 6th century AD tradition has it that their house church was on the Aventine Hill, on todays Via Prisca (Platner 1929:65-67). This site was excavated by the Augustinian monks of St. Prisca between 1934 and 1958. Underneath the church they found a Mithraeum with an altar dating to the 2nd century AD with statues of Oceanus Saturnus and Mithras killing the bull. This is called today the Mithraeum Domus Sanctae Priscae (Richardson 1992:257-258).

    When Paul instructs the church at Rome to greet Priscilla and Aquila on his behalf, he describes them as his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also, all the churches of the Gentiles” (16:3b,4). Paul had labored with them in Corinth and the beginning of the work at Ephesus. Paul mentions an event that is unrecorded in the book of Acts: they put their life on the line for the Apostle Paul. What they did, we do not know, but it must have been heroic because the Gentile church gave thanks. We have a hint from Paul’s writings as to the nature of this event.  He writes: “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivers us from so great a death, and does deliver us, in whom we trust that He will still deliver us” (2 Cor. 1:8-10; cf. Acts 20:19). Paul also mentioned fighting the beasts in Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:32). Exactly what the “sentence of death in ourselves” or the circumstances leading up to fighting the beasts, we are not told. Perhaps the letter carrier told the Corinthian believers when he delivered the letter to them.

    Whatever they did to risk their necks for Paul’s sake might have been in the back of the apostle’s mind when he wrote earlier in the epistle to the Romans: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:7-8).

    Why does Paul mention this event in his letter to the Romans? Some Gentile believers in the church in Rome may have wanted to marginalize this Messianic Jewish couple and the church that was in their home. Paul says to greet them (the Greek word has the idea of giving them a big bear hug) and thank them for risking their lives for his sake. Paul says that even their fellow Gentiles in churches in the east have been thankful for their testimony. In essence, Paul was trying to unify the church in Rome that was divided along economic, gender and ethnic lines.

    The church had been meeting in the home of Aquila and Priscilla for nearly 10 years when a catastrophe struck. The Great Fire of July 19, AD 64, completely destroyed or seriously damaged 10 of the 14 districts of Rome, including the homes on the Aventine Hill. Aquila and Priscilla may have been homeless in Rome (again), along with tens of thousands of other Romans.

    Perhaps they saw the handwriting on the wall. There were rumors that Nero had started this fire, thus making it a government induced crisis, so he could build his Domus Aurea (“Golden House/Palace”) and engage in extensive urban renewal (Suetonius, Nero 38; LCL 2:155,157; Tacitus, Annals 15:38-44; LCL 5:271-285). He quickly blamed the Christians for starting the fire and they were soon persecuted.

    Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus Again – 2 Tim. 4:19
    Aquila and Priscilla, perhaps being homeless and fearing the persecution that followed the fire, presumably escaped to Ephesus. When Paul wrote his son in the faith, Timothy, who was in Ephesus in AD 67, he instructed him to “greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 4:19).

    It may be instructive to note that Paul does not mention a church meeting in their house. This couple may have lost everything, and maybe in the Great Fire of Rome – their home, their business. They may have escaped with their lives, the shirt on their back, and any money they could carry. It could also be an indication that the church in Ephesus was well established and meeting in other places, thus there was no need for them to open their home.

    Lessons from the Lives of Aquila and Priscilla
    There are at least three lessons we can learn from the life of this godly couple who wanted their lives to be used in the service of the Lord. First, they understood the providential workings of God in their lives. Second, they experienced togetherness, some have suggested it should be “two-getherness” in their marriage. And finally, they put God first in their lives.

    God’s Providence in the lives of Aquila and Priscilla
    Let’s look at how the big picture may have taken shape. Perhaps we have a nice Jewish boy from Pontus who goes to Rome. He meets a nice aristocratic Gentile or Christian woman and they get married and begin to establish their lives together in Rome. Along comes Emperor Claudius and expels them from Rome so they lost their home and their business. In events like this, most people would have gotten bent out of shape by these events, but our couple may have considered that they still had each other, and that God, in His providence, may have moved them to Corinth where they met, ministered to, and eventually worked closely with the Apostle Paul in strategic missionary endeavors. Can anybody see the Hand of God here?

    Nothing happens in our life by chance. We want to understand the “big picture” of our lives because God has put eternity in our hearts. We want to know the end from the beginning (Eccl. 3:11). But we don’t understand the “big picture” because we are frail, sinful, finite human beings, thus Solomon said to enjoy life, for it is a gift from God (Eccl. 2:24; 3:12-13,22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9). So as believers in the Lord Jesus, we must trust the Lord that He is sovereign and in control of every detail of our life. He is leading us by His Word and His providence in order that we might be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:18-30).

    As I look back on my life, there are several pivotal events that set, or adjusted, the course of my life. One such event was in January 1988. I was team teaching a program for the Christian College Coalition at the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies in Jerusalem. On our field trip to Bethany and the Mount of Olives, I was the last one on a completely full bus with only one seat left. The empty seat was next to Dr. Mike Wilkins from Talbot School of Theology in California. As we were chatting, he invited me to teach a class the next January at Talbot on the background to the life of Christ. God, in His providence, used that encounter in two ways. First, it got me to study the life of the Lord Jesus. Up until that time, all my studies, Biblically and archaeologically, had been in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Iron Age history and archaeology of Judah and Jerusalem. Second, while I was teaching the class in California the next January, I met Dr. Richard Rigsby. We began the Talbot Bible Lands program. So for most Januarys in the last 20 years, I have been running around Israel, Turkey, Greece or Rome with students from that school. Sometimes I wonder: “What if somebody else had sat next to Mike on that trip?” God in His providence had that seat empty. Nothing happens in our lives by chance. God had a purpose in the expulsion from Rome for Aquila and Pricilla.

    The Two-getherness of Aquila and Priscilla
    When Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned in scripture, they are always mentioned together, never separately. They appeared to be inseparable. Someone once said that “togetherness is a multifaceted thing that involves every dimension of our lives. There is emotional intimacy (the depth sharing of significant feelings), intellectual intimacy (the sharing in the world of ideas), aesthetic intimacy (the depth sharing of experiences of beauty), creative intimacy (the sharing of acts of creativity), recreational intimacy (sharing activities and fun times), work intimacy (sharing in common tasks), crisis intimacy (standing together against the buffeting of life), spiritual intimacy (the sharing of ultimate concerns), and sexual intimacy. True togetherness comes as we experience intimacy in each of these areas” (cited in Harbour 1979:121).

    As we examine these nine aspects of intimacy, it can be observed from the limited information recorded in the Scriptures that Aquila and Priscilla experienced at least four of them. The first, spiritual intimacy is seen in the fact that their lives centered on the Lord and His Church. They opened their home up to the local church and they entertained traveling preachers. Second, work intimacy is seen in their tent-making together. Apparently this was a family business that they were both involved in. Third, instructing Apollos shows their intellectual intimacy. They both knew the Scriptures well and they wanted to share them with others. Finally, putting their life on the line for Paul’s sake and moving for the sake of the gospel showed their crisis intimacy. I am sure if Scripture had recorded more of the lives of these two saints, we would have seen more intimacy in their two-getherness.

    Aquila and Priscilla put the Lord first in their lives
    When the Lord Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, He said “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things [food, clothing and drink] shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). The Apostle Paul describes Aquila and Priscilla as “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 16:3). We have seen that this couple was missions minded, they opened their home so that the believers could gather to remember the Lord, pray, and have fellowship as they were instructed in the Word of God (cf. Acts 2:42). They also were engaged in “secular” employment so that they were not a financial burden on the churches. Yet God blessed them with a very successful business so they could show hospitality to the saints by inviting the church in their home. For a detailed discussion of hospitality in the church, see Strauch 1993.

    May there be an increase in the church of couples like Aquila and Priscilla who have a godly marriage for ministry.


    Bruce, F. F.
    1985    The Pauline Circle. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

    De Waele, F. J.
    1930    The Roman Market North of the Temple at Corinth. American Journal of Archaeology 34:432-454.

    Dio Cassius
    1924    Roman History.  Books 56-60.  Vol. 7. Translated by E. Cary.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library. Reprinted 2000.

    Harbour, Brian
    1979   Famous Couples of the Bible. Nashville, TN: Broadman.

    Hiebert, D. Edmond
    1992    In Paul’s Shadow. Friends and Foes of the Great Apostle. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University.

    Hock, Roland
    1978    Paul’s Tentmaking and the Problem and the Problem of His Social Class. Journal of Biblical Literature 97:555-564.

    1979    The Workshop as a Social Setting for Paul’s Missionary Preaching. Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41:438-450.

    Howson, John
    1872    The Metaphors of St. Paul and Companions of St. Paul. Boston: American Tract Society.

    1994    Lives of Illustrious Men. Pp. 353-402 in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Second series. Vol. 3. Edited by P. Schaff and H. Wace.  Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    Jewett, Robert
    1993    Tenement Churches and Communal Meals in the Early Church: The Implications of a Form-Critical Analysis of 2 Thessalonians 3:10. Biblical Research 38:23-43.

    1918    Satire. Translated by G. G. Ramsay. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library. Reprinted 1993.

    Murphy-O’Conner, Jerome
    1983    St. Paul’s Corinth. Text and Archaeology. Wilmington, DL: Michael Glazier.

    1992    Prisca and Aquila. Bible Review 8/6: 40-51,62.

    Platner, Samuel
    1929    A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. London: Oxford University Press.

    1983    Natural History. Books 8-11. Vol. 3. Second Edition. Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 353.

    1992    Natural History. Books 17-19. Vol. 5. Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 371.

    Richardson, L. Jr.
    1992    A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University.

    Rolston, Holmes
    1954    Personalities Around Paul. Richmond, VA: John Knox.

    Strauch, Alexander
    1993   The Hospitality Commands. Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth.

    1992   Lives of the Caesars. Claudius. Nero. Vol. 2. Trans. by J. C. Rolfe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 38.

    1994    Annals 13-16. Vol. 5. Trans. by J. Jackson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 322.

    Vagi, David
    1999    Coinage and History of the Roman Empire. 2 vols. Sidney, OH: Coin World.


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